Less parking, better air -- a la carte

 

I salivate over wide-open spaces. Bliss, for me, is a sprawling view of distant ranges and crisp horizons—or a free, fortuitous curbside parking spot five minutes before a crowded event. Yet my environmental better half knows that "free parking" isn’t free, and that there are plenty of other types of euphoria to be had, like not having to drive at all.

In California, State Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) is working on a controversial bill that, last Thursday, was approved for the full Assembly’s consideration. Its aim? To reveal the actual costs of parking and create incentives for California cities to shift from a pro-parking model to a pay-to-pollute stance that helps to alleviate traffic and save the air. 

As the bill makes clear, reducing the number of folks on the road (while improving public transit) is key to the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Cars and light trucks account for half of the air pollution in the state, and five of the top 13 most congested areas in the U.S. are in California. At work sites, meanwhile, the lure of "free parking" apparently increases our hunger to drive by 22 percent. (One might think it’s unfair to make some employees either pay or walk; but, as Lowenthal’s bill points out, many salaries are simply adjusted to account for "free parking"—we’re already paying).

Lowenthal’s bill doesn’t ban free parking, but it does prevent the state from subsidizing it, for the most part, while also encouraging local governments to pick and choose from a "menu" of parking policy reforms in order to be eligible for state funding and certain grants and loans. Each environmentally-delectable option carries a point value. A minimum of 20 points must be met, and 50 points gives cities an advantage in the running for competitive grants.

Here are just a few items off the menu—what would you order up for your community?

  • "Eliminate minimum parking requirements citywide or within the unincorporated county." (20 pts)
  • "Establish maximum parking restrictions for all general office, general retail, general commercial, and similar development at or below the following: 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet (10 pts); 2 spaces per 1,000 square feet (15 pts); 1 space per 1,000 square feet" (20 pts)
  • "Adopt an ordinance to require employers to offer transit passes to all employees, including full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees, on a pretax basis and certify compliance upon application for a new or renewal business license." (2 pts)
  • "Install parking meters in areas with parking occupancy rates of greater than 85% and establish meter rates such that parking availability improves to 85% or better."  (2 pts)

Whether Lowenthal’s bill will prove appetizing to the entire Assembly remains to be seen, but, as the Senator told the Long Beach Post this morning, its goal is to give municipalities options—before 2020 rolls around—as well as spark discussion. So, what’ll it be? 

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